Holding Multiple Items in Short Term Memory: A Neural Mechanism

Edmund T. Rolls, Laura Dempere-Marco, Gustavo Deco

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Human short term memory has a capacity of several items maintained simultaneously. We show how the number of short term memory representations that an attractor network modeling a cortical local network can simultaneously maintain active is increased by using synaptic facilitation of the type found in the prefrontal cortex. We have been able to maintain 9 short term memories active simultaneously in integrate-and-fire simulations where the proportion of neurons in each population, the sparseness, is 0.1, and have confirmed the stability of such a system with mean field analyses. Without synaptic facilitation the system can maintain many fewer memories active in the same network. The system operates because of the effectively increased synaptic strengths formed by the synaptic facilitation just for those pools to which the cue is applied, and then maintenance of this synaptic facilitation in just those pools when the cue is removed by the continuing neuronal firing in those pools. The findings have implications for understanding how several items can be maintained simultaneously in short term memory, how this may be relevant to the implementation of language in the brain, and suggest new approaches to understanding and treating the decline in short term memory that can occur with normal aging.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere61078
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes

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